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The Shipping News

Annie Proulx

Study Questions and Essay Topics

Key Facts

Quiz

E. Annie Proulx has a rich, poetic voice, and often writes in fragments. Discuss her writing style as it pertains to the overall effect of the novel.

Proulx's style helps achieve a strong sense of setting and characters in the novel. The rich, poetic style of Proulx's narrative contrasts sharply with her subject matter— the stark, harsh living conditions of the Newfoundland landscape. Her writing is laden with simile and metaphor, two stylistic devices that call attention to the poetry within the author's prosaic voice. In a place of such practical, stark lifestyles, Proulx includes details that bring life to the story, that flesh out what otherw ise might seem plain and dreary. She describes, for instance, exactly what kind of ring Bunny buys for her friend as a birthday present, where Bunny finds the ring, and the specific kind of paper that wraps it. With the waiter who brings Quoyle and Tert Card their drinks in the bar, it is the same. Proulx takes a paragraph out to describe who this guy is, to compare his whiskers with spruce trees, to mention that he looks to old to be working. These details create a world that a reader who has never set foot on Newfoundland can see and understand. Proulx's style continually calls attention to the importance of characters and setting.

Her prose is startlingly fragmented. She consistently breaks grammatical rules in order to achieve aesthetic effect. This style complements the story of a newspaper reporter well. Quoyle thinks his feelings in terms of news headlines, describing his own f eelings to himself through this medium. Proulx's fragments sound almost like stage instructions, or even a newspaper reporter's notes. Their tone in any case creates a sense of setting the scene, that calls the reader's attention to the centrality of plac e for the novel, the way that place and characters drive the action of the story more than merely serving as backdrop or pawns for the plot.

How does the The Gammy Bird change over the course of the novel, and what role does Quoyle have in that change? Consider the newspaper's evolution within the context of the larger surge of social and technological changes in this geographic area.

Over the course of the novel, The Gammy Bird both improves in quality and also loses a bit of its local idiosyncrasies. The fake ads, fake car wrecks, and sensationalized sexual abuse stories that were running when Quoyle arrives become tamer over the months that Quoyle works there. Quoyle himself focuses less on meaningless car wrecks and instead invests himself in the shipping news. This change allows the paper to take on a larger role in the social and technological changes going on in Newfoundl and. Quoyle writes columns on the merits of regulations, the depravity of the oil industry, and the pathetic state of cod fishing. All of these columns astutely anticipate the imminent power of international corporations closing in on the old way of life in Newfoundland. By the time that Tert Card leaves, Quoyle and Jack reinvent the "home" section of the paper to address the new lifestyles infringing on the island, as well as the old.

Quoyle's ascendance in rank at The Gammy Bird parallels his growing sense of self worth and purpose. He becomes happier with himself when he achieves a writing voice; symbolically, having a writing voice teaches him to stand up for himself and asse rt his own opinions.

Who are the four women in every man's heart, according to Billy Pretty's father? Who are they in Quoyle's life and how does each affect Quoyle's relationship with the others?

In many ways, this novel is a story of Quoyle navigating through the four women of his heart: the Maid in the Meadow, the Demon Lover, the Stouthearted Woman and the Tall and Quiet Woman. In Quoyle's life, the roles are acted out respectively by Bunny and Sunshine (together), Petal Bear, the aunt, and Wavey. Proulx is known for her interest in male characters; although the male characters do show up more overtly in the narrative, these women serve more shadowy roles in the plot and narrati ve. Although Quoyle is undoubtedly the main character in the novel, these four women drive many of his actions and decisions. The interesting part of Quoyle's story is that he has encountered the four women out of conventional order. One might expect a ma n to begin with a stouthearted woman for a mother, and move on to an innocent youth, and then a fall from innocence. Quoyle had no mother to speak of, and his with women essentially began with the fall from innocence, the Demon Lover, and the entire novel addresses how to proceed from this place, not having had a window of innocence. Quoyle has no idea what it means to love without pain. Still, the happy maids in the meadow (Bunny and Sunshine) at the end of the narrative show that it is possible to produ ce innocence from suffering, and that sometimes these four forces align in a benevolent form.

Suggested Essay Topics

Proulx has said she likes to write about people up against "mass," whether it be landscape or inevitable social change. How does Quoyle fit this scenario? Consider his epiphany on the berry-picking excursion.

The newsroom at The Gammy Bird is filled with local personality, humor, and dreamers. Describe three characters (among Tert Card, Jack Buggit, Nutbeem, Billy Pretty, and Quoyle) and show how their unique personalities and interactions help shape a

picture of Newfoundland culture and values.

How are names used symbolically in this novel? You might consider discussing the significance of "Quoyle," "Partridge," "Petal Bear," "Billy Pretty," "Wavey," "Mockingburg" and "Newfoundland."

Compare and contrast the departures of Tert Card and Nutbeem. Both men have an itching to get out of Killick-Claw, but they are motivated by different forces, and their farewells evoke different responses from the local folk. Where do these characters fit

into the dichotomy between the old and new way of life? What does their relationship to the community say about the social and economic values of the Newfoundland people?

Discuss three or four of the chapter introductions—either types of knots, or definitions. How do these explanatory notes create symbolic significance throughout the chapter and the novel as a whole?

Does this novel have a happy ending? Is it too hopeful? What is the difference between happiness and the absence of pain?

More Help

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Question

by Anki145, August 23, 2012

Why doesn't the "The Sun Clouds Over" chapter have a "Chapter 30:" in front of it like all of the rest of the chapters do?

2 Comments

2 out of 6 people found this helpful

Spelling mistake

by serg06, February 26, 2014

Chapter 36, second paragraph, first sentence: "diromg" instead of "during".

Spelling mistake

by serg06, February 26, 2014

Chapter 37, paragraph 3, sentence 2: "turn7"

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